Nature comes in all shapes and sizes – and once you get to know them a little better, spiders are among the most intriguing of creatures.
They're really not scary (here in the UK anyway), and we ought to be protecting them, not squishing them. Think of it as encouraging nature into our lives – our Nature Kit has lots of other tips and ideas on that front too...
My 8 reasons to feel better about spiders
1. Spider bites are rare – and British spiders are not dangerous
The bottom line is that there are no British spiders that can be considered deadly or dangerous. Spiders are certainly not aggressive – they will only bite as a last resort in self-defence if handled roughly or accidentally squashed.
2. The noble false widow spider isn’t deadly
The noble false widow has been a UK resident since 1879. Don’t confuse them with the black widow spider, which doesn't live here (unless it's hitched a lift on a boat – which is extremely rare).
The media occasionally runs sensationalist stories about the ‘deadly’ noble false widow spider. They aren't deadly. A bite from a noble false widow would be a rare occurrence in itself – and certainly doesn’t cause flesh-eating symptoms. These are the result of secondary bacterial infection of a bite, scratch or sting, and nothing to do with spider venom.
It can look big and scary in photos but the biggest its body grows to is about 14mm.
3. Spiders (and their webs) can be beautiful
There are over 650 UK spider species. Their names usually tell us a bit about their behaviour. For instance orb and lace weavers tell you what kind of web those spiders make. Orbs are the classic-looking spiral design, lacy webs are more of a tight-knit mesh. Then there are jumping and wolf spiders – wolf spiders look quite hairy and can pounce on their prey.
If you haven't done it before, take a closer look at the amazing patterns of those circular webs in your garden. The spider you'll usually see making those is the garden cross spider, one of the orb-weaving family. It’s called a cross spider because of its markings, as you can see in the photo.
Money spiders – the tiny, shiny black ones – are supposed to indicate good fortune. A superstition says if one sits on you, he’s preparing to weave you some new clothes.
4. Spiders eat flies
Spiders like eating flies, moths and all sorts of larvae. In turn they make a great meal for some of our best-loved garden birds, including robins – so they are an important part of the food web in our gardens.
5. Spider catchers are available
Male house spiders strike out in search of a mate in the autumn, which is why you notice them more indoors – especially when they sprint across your living room floor!
If you aren’t a spider fan, you can buy humane spider-catching devices with long handles so you don’t need to get too close. A glass and a piece of card also does the trick – great for getting 8-legged friends out of the bath. Please don’t wash them down the plughole – they are likely to die.
There is no way, really, of stopping spiders living in your house, but keeping your windows closed at night, clearing away food waste (which will attract the insects that spiders eat) and dusting cobwebs might help.
6. You can outrun a spider
House spiders do motor across the carpet don’t they? But even at full pelt they reach about 1 mph – so there is no way they could outrun you. They are the cheetahs of the spider world – a short sprint and then they have to take a breather.
7. Spider webs are even cleverer than you think
We probably all know that fact about spider silk being stronger than steel. Impressive. But did you know that spider webs themselves aren’t sticky? The spider drops a sticky substance onto them. It then plucks the web, and the vibrations help distribute the sticky blobs evenly along the web, to catch prey.
When moving around the web, the spider steps between these blobs to avoid becoming stuck itself. Ingenious.
8. Is the daddy-long-legs a spider?
A lot of people ask this question – I can't guarantee it’ll make you feel better about spiders! The answer is yes and no.
Daddy-long-legs is often used to describe crane flies (also known as leatherjackets). But there are two other groups of species that we call daddy-long-legs too: the harvestmen (which are arachnids, but not actually spiders) and a group called cellar spiders – like the one pictured here – with small bodies and long thin legs. They tend to hang out high up in the corners of rooms.
Bet you wish you hadn’t asked…
Dr Charlie Bell works on the Tomorrow’s Biodiversity Project at the Field Studies Council. The project is teaching people important biological identification skills, focusing on under-recorded groups such as spiders. For more information, including spider training courses, see www.tombio.uk.